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Don't You Guys Get It? – by Steve Russell

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o’er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought. - General George S. Patton, Jr.

Veteran’s Day. A nice public gathering for veterans. The school bands were great. The student poems were thoughtful. The efforts of all were appreciated. I gave my remarks in uniform and as a veteran, took pride to be numbered among America’s veterans. The remarks were well received and many expressed their feelings and gratitude or related stories of their relatives’ sacrifice and service.

I’ve been in quite a number of fights and several deadly ambushes. But that was on the battlefield. Perhaps that is why I didn’t see this one coming. Standing by a stream of people as they departed, many hands were extended. As I took this one from a World War II veteran, my heart warmed to welcome his comments. The ambush was complete.

This member of the ‘greatest generation’ told me to keep politics out of my speech and just support the troops. Surprised, I told him I was not sure what he meant. He assured me I did. Politely pressing him further, I assured him I didn’t and to please tell me what concerned him. The next moments were shocking. I might have expected them from a war protester, or an insulated academic, but certainly not from a ‘Fighting Sea Bee’ that had fought in the Pacific.

“Don’t you guys get it? Didn’t you get the message last Tuesday,” he said, referring to the November 7th elections. He then proceeded to raise his voice and tell me there was no way to win this war. True to my training, I turned into the attack and caught my footing. But the little girl standing with me whose father was currently serving in the Middle East was not so fortunate. She began to cry. Keeping calm, I refused to accept his predictions of doom and despair, countered them, and felt glad I never had to serve with this man in the Pacific.

So was that the message a uniformed soldier speaking at Veteran’s Day event was supposed to get from the national election? Is that the message our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan heard as well? Well—is it? Are we to honestly believe that this discouraged World War II ‘Fighting Sea Bee’ veteran supports us? He said he does. But there is the rub. How can support be proffered in the form of a poison pill? Caressing us and comforting us while telling us to swallow defeat is hateful and cruel to our soldiers. And it is harmful to our nation because it emboldens our enemies.

As we approach the complexities of Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to approach them with victory as the goal. This applies to the general as much as to the politician. The feeding of a steady diet of bitter pills to the public and to our soldiers that defend it is no redeeming quality in any leader Americans want to follow. Our soldiers are willing to sacrifice much. They don’t ask for comforts, although comforts are nice. They don’t ask for the easing of their burdens, although they long for the day it will come. They don’t ask for entitled pity in the form of services to cope, although we must care for the wounded, the widow, and the orphan. What they want—above all else and before any of these—is victory and the political and military leaders that have the guts to provide it. Don’t they get it? -- SDR

Steve Russell is a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. He commanded a battalion that was central to the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein. He now serves as chairman and founder of Vets4Victory.

Used with permission of Center for a Just Society, Copyright © 2006 All rights reserved.

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